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November 9, 2012

Theater teacher’s new job at MSHS is full of firsts

BEREA — Students filed into the Madison Southern High School auditorium Thursday morning and jumped right into rehearsal for their upcoming production, “Acting Out.”

“This is what we’re working on today — projection, projection, projection,” said the new theater director Rebecca Tomlin, who on Saturday was named the Kentucky Theatre Association’s Teacher of the Year at the 41th Annual KTA Statewide Conference in Lexington.

That morning, students were rehearsing a comedic satire promoting a fictitious product called the Script Cleaner 5000 that promised to “clean up” any script that would otherwise not be appropriate for a high school stage.

Tomlin usually directed from the floor in front of the stage. But in the next moment she would be in the spotlight, pretending to sword fight with a student during a Shakespeare scene or teaching them how to really yell at somebody.

“Just let him have it, because this scene is usually full of the ‘F-word,’” Tomlin told one student who was acting out the clean version of one expletive-ridden scene.

The hour-long class was relaxed and full of laughter, with a healthy exchange of direction and dialogue between Tomlin and her students.

The educator of 14 years was taken by surprise when she was called for the award at the Lexington conference, she said. This was her first year teaching at Southern.

“I was shocked that the kids nominated me. I hadn’t been with them for very long,” she said.

But if she was to speculate about why the students nominated her, Tomlin knows “there is a mutual respect between me and my students,” she said. “They always know where I stand and they know the purpose of any criticism is to help them grow.”

This was the first year a MSHS class participated in a KTA conference. Senior Emma Heid, 17, was chosen to be on the KTA All-Star Cast, which is the “best of the best performers,” Tomlin said.

At the conference, Southern’s Advanced Acting class performed a piece about teen suicide called “A Moment in Time,” an award-winning play written by Eddie Kennedy, former theater teacher at Berea Community School and owner of the Berea Arena Theater.

Tomlin also volunteers at the Berea Arena Theater, where she recently had a role in the female version of the “Odd Couple.”

She also is the assistant director and stage manager for “The Shadow Box,” a production to benefit Hospice Care Plus. The performance is scheduled Nov. 16 and 17 at the Black Box Theater in EKU’s Center for the Arts (visit for details).

Another first for Southern students is participation in The Cappies, “Critics and Awards Program” through which high school theatre and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews and publish those reviews in local newspapers, according to the Cappies website.

At the end of the year, the student critics vote for awards that are presented at a formal Cappies Gala — “just like the Tony Awards, only with high school students,” Tomlin said.  

The 56 students in her Musical Theatre class will perform “Back to the 80’s: The Totally Awesome Musical” as their Cappies entry, she said.   

Tomlin also chartered a troupe for the International Thespian Society, in which seven students were inducted.

These seven students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, log at least 100 hours of theater work (70 in school and 30 in the community), have experience on-stage and backstage and “just be a well-rounded theater person,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin has really enjoyed her time working in Madison County, she said, where she teaches three jam-packed theater courses. At Garrard County High School where she was an English and Theater teacher for nine years, she taught one theater course.

“Both students and teachers have been extremely receptive — I have a lot of support from administration,” she said. “I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with at Madison Southern.”

Tomlin’s three classes are “constantly in production,” she said. The next show, “Acting Out,” is a compilation from all three of her classes and will feature a Broadway review, two short comedies and the KTA entry “A Moment in Time.”

The performance is scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. at the MSHS auditorium.

The cost of admission is $5.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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